Chance Fluke Luck Quirk Random – Historical Coincidences

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Given how many humans have existed in the world and how many events and incidents, both big and small, happen every day, history is littered with examples of strange coincidences. But the ones we will be looking at today are so unusual that they strain credulity and, should they have come from the pages of a book, they would have been deemed contrived or unbelievable.

10. Poe’s Tale of Cannibalism

At one point, the ship wrecks during a storm and only four men survive and are washed ashore. With no food whatsoever, after a few days they resort to the most drastic solution – cannibalism. They draw straws and the unlucky one is a young man named Richard Parker who is killed and eaten.

At first, this would seem like a straightforward, albeit grisly story. But then we move forward 46 years and something strange happens. In 1884, a yacht called the Mignonette left England headed for Sydney, Australia. Carrying four men, it also shipwrecked and left the seafarers stranded with no food. As a last resort, they also cannibalized one of their own – a 17-year-old named Richard Parker. The only main difference was that the survivors saw no need to draw straws as the real-life Parker had fallen ill after drinking seawater and was considered a goner.

Eerie coincidences aside, the case that followed after the remaining men were rescued and arrested for murder represented a landmark ruling in English law. It stated that necessity does not excuse murder, meaning you cannot kill someone else to save your own life.

9. Where the War Began and Ended

On July 21, 1861, the First Battle of Bull Run marked the first major engagement in the American Civil War. Of course, the war was horrible for many people, but it was a particularly strange inconvenience for one wholesale grocer named Wilmer McLean. He lived on a plantation near Manassas, Virginia, and the Bull Run River passed right through his land. In fact, most of the battle took place on his property and the Confederate leader, General P.G.T. Beauregard even commandeered McLean’s house to use as his headquarters.

Obviously, McLean and his family couldn’t live in the middle of a war so they relocated. A few years later, they were residing in a house near a village called Appomattox Court House. As it happens, that is where the last battle of the Civil War took place. Afterwards, Confederate General Robert E. Lee officially surrendered to Union leader Ulysses S. Grant. And he did it in the parlor of Wilmer McLean’s new home.

The McLeans later moved back to their previous estate and simply abandoned the house in Appomattox County. They also defaulted on the loans they took out to buy it so “Surrender House”, as it came to be known, was confiscated and sold at auction. Today, it operates as a museum and it is a designated National Historical Monument.

As for Wilmer McLean, he liked to say that the Civil War “began in his front yard and ended in his front parlor.”

8. The Curse of Tecumseh

Ever since 1840, American presidents have died according to a pattern which is remarkable enough that people have ascribed it to a curse. Every president who is elected in a year ending in 0 (something which happens every two decades) is fated to die in office.

First was William Henry Harrison. Elected in 1840, he died of pneumonia a month after being sworn in. Then, in 1860 came Abraham Lincoln, and we all know how that ended. In 1880, James Garfield was elected president and he was also assassinated by a man named Charles Guiteau.

William McKinley might have escaped this alleged curse if he stuck at just one term. Alas, in 1900 he was elected president to his second term, and a year later, he was shot and killed by an anarchist. Next up was Warren G. Harding, who suffered a stroke three years after being elected in 1920. Afterwards came Franklin Roosevelt who passed away of a cerebral hemorrhage in 1945. While he did die in office, he didn’t actually die during the term which allegedly sealed his fate. And last, but not least, there was JFK, who won the 1960 election and whose assassination is all too well-known.

As you can see, seven presidents followed this extraordinary pattern. Many see it for what it probably is – a series of incredible coincidences, but others claim it is a curse placed originally on William Henry Harrison by Tecumseh, leader of the Shawnee people, for the former’s role in Tecumseh’s Rebellion.

Ronald Reagan would have been next in line. He was elected in 1980 and, although someone did try to kill him, he survived his injuries and died of old age decades after he left office. Even if the curse was real, it appears that he broke it.

7. The Church Explosion

At 7:25 p.m., March 1, 1950, the West Side Baptist Church in Beatrice, Nebraska, exploded due to a natural gas leak ignited by the fire from the furnace. It was a Wednesday and every Wednesday at 7:20 p.m. sharp, the church choir gathered there to practice. People were expecting the worst as they approached the smoking rubble, but it soon became apparent that nobody had been injured in the blast. Even though the choir director was very strict about tardiness, on this particular night, none of the 15 choir members arrived on time.

It wasn’t one single thing that caused the delays, either, but rather a series of minor occurrences that detained each person enough to evade the deadly blast. The reverend and his family, for example, were late because his wife had to iron a dress at the last moment. Two sisters both had car trouble. Two high school girls wanted to finish listening to a radio program, while another student was struggling with her geometry homework. The pianist fell asleep after dinner. A man was late because he wanted to finish writing a letter he kept putting off, while one woman was simply feeling lazy because it was cold outside and her home was warm and cozy.

And so went all the other excuses. Unsurprisingly, given the nature of the circumstances, some people considered it divine intervention.

6. Right Place, Right Time

Joseph Figlock became a hero of Detroit due to a bizarre series of events that happened over the course of a year. One morning in 1937, Figlock was at his job as a street sweeper when he was struck by something that landed on his head and shoulders. That “something” was a baby girl who fell out a four-story window. Because Figlock broke her fall, the infant survived her drop that, otherwise, would have almost surely been fatal.

A year later, the street sweeper was back at his job when he was, again, hit by a falling object. And you guessed it – it was another baby. This time, it was 2-year-old David Thomas who also fell out of his window on the fourth floor. This baby did sustain some injuries but, once more, had escaped certain doom thanks to Joseph Figlock being in the right place, at the right time.

5. Miss Unsinkable

Violet Jessop was born in Argentina to Irish immigrants in 1887. When she turned 21, she found work as a ship stewardess and, in 1911, secured a position aboard the RMS Olympic, the first of the Olympic-class ocean liners built by the White Star Line at the start of the century.

At the time, these were the largest, most luxurious ships in the world. Jessop was probably thrilled with her new job but, pretty soon, she might have reconsidered her fortunes. In September 1911, Jessop was onboard the Olympic when it collided with a warship called the HMS Hawke. The collision wasn’t too bad and the ocean liner managed to make it to port without any fatalities.

This incident didn’t deter Jessop from continuing her career as a stewardess. Although she was content aboard the Olympic, her friends persuaded her that it would make for a much more exciting experience to work aboard the White Star Line’s new ocean liner. After all, this vessel was proclaimed to be “unsinkable” and its name was the Titanic.

You already know how this went down – just four days into its maiden voyage, the Titanic hit an iceberg and sank. Jessop survived the ordeal as she was lowered down into lifeboat 16 which was later picked up by the RMS Carpathia. She later recalled that, as the boat was being lowered, an officer put a baby in her lap. Later, aboard the Carpathia, a woman leaped at her, snatched the baby and ran. Jessop always assumed that was the mother, but she never saw either one of them again.

Then World War II started and Jessop served as a nurse for the British Red Cross. She worked aboard the Britannic, which was the third and last of the Olympic-class ocean liners and had been repurposed into a hospital ship. In 1916, the vessel suffered damage from a mine explosion and sank in the Aegean Sea. For the third time in five years, Violet Jessop had survived a shipwreck, retroactively earning her the nickname “Miss Unsinkable.”

4. The Opposing Graves

Just outside the Belgian town of Mons sits the St. Symphorien Military Cemetery which serves as the final resting place for over 500 soldiers who died in the First World War.

Many of these men perished in the Battle of Mons which took place on August 23, 1914, and is considered to be the first major action of the British army in the war. One of these men, however, died a little earlier. John Parr was a private who was born in London and lied about his age so he could enlist. He served as a reconnaissance cyclist and scouted the area ahead of his battalion. However, he was gunned down by enemy fire and died on August 21, at only 17 years of age. He is generally considered to be the first British serviceman killed in action during the First World War.

His grave is at St. Symphorien and opposite of it, just a few yards away, is the grave of Private George Ellison. He died years later on November 11, 1918. This date is significant because it is, in fact, the day that Germany and the Allies signed an armistice, bringing an end to the war. George Ellison was killed just 90 minutes before peace was declared, thus giving him the unfortunate distinction of being the last British soldier killed in the war.

These two graves face each other, although this was done completely unintentionally as nobody was aware of their “first” and “last” positions when they were buried.

3. Death at Hoover Dam

The Hoover Dam was one of the greatest, most ambitious engineering projects of its day, but it came with a heavy price as a lot of people died during construction.

Exactly how many is a matter of debate. Officially, the death toll was 96, but historians argue that the real number would be much higher because the official version didn’t take into account workers who died off-site of construction-related injuries or illnesses. An inquiry by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation increased the number to 213 deaths between 1921 and 1935.

The first fatality was a surveyor named John Gregory Tierney who drowned in the Colorado River on December 20, 1921, after he got caught in a flash flood. Technically, another worker named Harold Connelly died first, but his demise was completely unconnected with the project as he drowned in the river when he went swimming.

Here is the truly tragic part – the last fatality registered during construction of the Hoover Dam occurred on December 20, 1935, exactly 14 years to the day after Tierney drowned, when a 25-year-old electrician’s helper plummeted 320 feet from one of the intake towers. That man was Patrick Tierney, the surveyor’s son.

2. The King and His Double

Some say that we all have a doppelganger somewhere in the world, a person who isn’t related to us in any way but they look just like us. King Umberto I of Italy found his doppelganger in 1900 when he went to eat at a little restaurant in Monza. He discovered that the proprietor looked almost exactly like him but, more than that, they had been born on the same day.

At this point, you would think this was more a case of twins separated at birth, but the coincidences did not stop there. Both men had married women named Margherita and had sons named Vittorio. Moreover, the restaurant owner had opened his establishment the day of King Umberto’s coronation.

Shocked to his core by these revelations, the king invited his doppelganger or long-lost twin to an event taking place the next day. Sadly, neither one made it. The next morning, the restaurateur was killed under unexplained conditions. Just hours later, when King Umberto found out about his demise, he was assassinated by an anarchist named Gaetano Bresci.

1. The Writer and the Comet

The life of American writer Mark Twain has been inexorably linked to the passing of Halley’s Comet from beginning to end.

This famous comet visits us every 75 to 76 years. It will next be visible in 2061, but a noteworthy appearance happened in November 1835. Just two weeks after its perihelion (meaning the point of its orbit which is closest to the Sun), Samuel Langhorne Clemens was born in Florida, Missouri. He would go on to adopt the pen name Mark Twain and become America’s most celebrated author.

Throughout his life, Twain took a keen interest in science and he was well-aware of his connection to Halley’s Comet. In the early 20th century, the writer was getting on in years and knew that the end was near. However, he also knew that the comet was due to pass by Earth again soon, and he was convinced that he would not die before that happened. As he put it: “Now there are these two unaccountable freaks; they came in together, they must go out together.”

He could not have been more right. Mark Twain died on April 21, 1910, just one day after Halley’s Comet reached its perihelion.

Chance Fluke Luck Quirk Random

Historical Coincidences

Great Construction Projects in America

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"Where is the WABAC Machine going to take us this time, Mr. Peabody?

“Where is the WABAC Machine going to take us this time, Mr. Peabody?

“Set the WABAC for 1914 and the building of the Panama Canal, Sherman My Boy.”

 10 Great American

Construction Projects


Looking back…

On March 27, 1975, work began on the construction of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System.  More than just an 800 mile 48 inch diameter pipe, the vast system includes 11 pumping stations and hundreds of miles of smaller pipes that feed the big pipe.  The US has undertaken many great construction projects, and here we list 10 of them.  We would like to know what projects you think should have been on this list and which should not have.

Digging, building, blasting…..

10. Trans-Alaska Pipeline System.

Overcoming objections by environmentalists and working in the frozen north presented quite a task.  Cracked fact: Native Americans had mined crude oil from peat soaked in oil for hundreds of years on Alaska’s North Slope.  Running from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez, the pipeline pumps up to 2.1 million barrels of oil per day.  Objections by Native Alaskans were apparently relegated to second class status after the frightening economic results of the 1973 Arab Oil Embargo. Completed in 1977, projections are that less than 500,000 barrels of oil per day will be flowing through the pipeline by 2015.

9. Mount Rushmore.

Sculptures cut into the rock of a mountain face depicting 4 of our presidents with 60 foot tall heads makes this masterpiece the largest sculpture of heads in the world. Construction ran from 1927 until completion in 1941, with the original sculptor, Gutzon Borglum dying in March 1941 only months before the project was done. Borglum’s son, Lincoln, supervised the completion of the memorial. Located in South Dakota, Mount Rushmore is the state’s number one tourist attraction (in a state where tourism is the second biggest industry) with 2 to 3 million visitors per year.  The presidents depicted on the sculpture are George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt. Cracked fact: The sculptures were planned to show the presidents from the waist up, but time and money ran short, leaving just the heads.  This magnificent sculpture features prominently in the Alfred Hitchcock movie, North by Northwest (1959).

8. Tennessee Valley Authority System.

Chartered by congress in 1933 in the midst of the Great Depression, the TVA was created to build a series of hydro-electric dams across the Appalachian South, from Virginia to Mississippi.  Although people displaced by the reservoirs resulting from the dams were not thrilled with the project, most people in the region were happy to get the jobs, cheap electricity (often where there had been none) and the recreational opportunities provided by the lakes.  A total of 46 dams have been built along with an additional couple dozen electric power plants, and even 5 nuclear power plants. Of course, everything comes with a price and environmentalists have long complained of the negative environmental impact of dams upon the natural wildlife.

7. Empire State Building.

The tallest building in the world from 1931 to 1970, this mighty skyscraper remains the very symbol of New York City, arguably the greatest city in the world.  In July of 1945, a B-25 Mitchell medium bomber crashed into the 80th floor, killing 14 people.  Cracked fact: The airplane crash caused an elevator to fall 75 stories, which the elevator operator survived, still the longest elevator fall ever to be survived.  Over the years, something over 30 people have chosen to leap from various floors of the building (to their deaths, of course), and that is not even counting King Kong!  Cracked fact:Although not an emergency hurry up project, it took only 2 years to build the Empire State Building.  An incredible amount of cultural references have been made to this grand tower, including the previously mentioned film, King Kong (1933).  Cracked fact: Dirigibles (Zeppelins) were originally expected to dock at the very top of the building!

6. Hoover Dam.

Originally called Boulder Dam, Hoover Dam was built during the Great Depression, completed in 1936.  More than 100 men lost their lives on this massive project, but that was when jobs were so scarce workers flocked to the huge project.  Over 1200 feet long and over 700 feet high, Hoover Dam is 45 feet wide at the top and over 600 feet wide at the bottom. The largest concrete structure in history to that point, work was actually completed 2 years ahead of schedule.  That might be the most impressive fact.  Cracked fact: A million people a year visit the dam as a tourist site.  Controversy over the dam’s name caused both Hoover Dam and Boulder Dam to be used until 1947 when congress officially name it Hoover Dam.  The river dammed by Hoover Dam is the Colorado River, and the lake created by the dam, Lake Mead, is the largest (by volume) reservoir in the US.

5. The Alcan Highway.

Actually called The Alaska Highway (among other names) this giant project was another one of those “hurry up and get it done right now” propositions due to the emergency of World War II.  Stretching 1700 miles from British Columbia to Delta Junction in Alaska, the Alcan was built to allow overland travel back and forth from the continental United States to Alaska.  The route was planned and reconnoitered by dog sled and the Canadian government offered no financial assistance (as they saw no need for the highway for Canadian purposes).  Started in March of 1942, the highway was completed by November of 1942, an incredible accomplishment.  Dealing with mushy ground was a major problem not solvable by conventional means.  Bulldozers got stuck and stayed stuck. Laying logs across the roadway in the old pioneer fashion (“corduroy” road) was the answer.  Working at a feverish pace to complete the job before winter, much of the work was performed by African-Americans.  The highway was opened to the public in 1948, and today is a few hundred miles shorter than it was at first due to making a more direct route.

4. The Wilderness Road.

Cut through the wilderness from Virginia to Louisville, Kentucky across the Cumberland Gap, the road was built entirely by men with axes and saws and shovels.  No machines! Daniel Boone himself blazed the trail and the road was the most important east-west road for pioneers for 50 years.  First built starting in 1775, the road was for the first several years only traversable by horseback or on foot, but after 1796 wagons could make their way on it.  Not only was the work strenuous, but the builders had to feed themselves and fight off the occasional Indian (Native-American) raid.  Not as impressive as the other projects built with power equipment, the back-breaking labor and hardships endured by the builders is as impressive as any other project.  The Wilderness Road was made more or less obsolete by the National Road in 1818.

3. Trans-Continental Railroad.

Built from 1863 to 1869, this railway ran from Iowa where it intersected with the rail system of the eastern half of the US to San Francisco on California’s Pacific Coast.  The first such railway that spanned a continent, the driving of the “Golden Spike” on May 10, 1869 symbolically completing the railroad is a proud day in American history.  Built by the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific Railroads, thousands of freed slaves (African-Americans) and Chinese immigrants contributed to the long days of hard labor without rest while construction crossed rivers, mountains, valleys and deserts.  No longer would settlers have to brave the dangers of a wagon train or a ship ride all the way around South America to get from one coast to the other.

2. Interstate Highway System.

Called The Dwight D. Eisenhower Interstate Highway System as Ike was president in 1956 when the project was authorized and construction started, over 47,000 miles of limited access highway criss-cross the US.  Still under construction, this ongoing project will probably be worked on until the end of civilization.  Cracked fact: The Interstate Highway System took its inspiration from the German Autobahn built 20 years earlier.  Extra Cracked fact: This highway system is not the biggest in the world.  The Chinese have that distinction!  About one fourth of all miles driven by Americans are on the Interstates.

1. Panama Canal.

Opened in 1914, the US built the Panama Canal with an eye toward shifting its Atlantic and Pacific fleets back and forth as needed in time of war.  Of course, the tremendous savings for cargo ships to transit the 48 mile long canal instead of having to go all the way around South America was also a consideration.  Others had tried and failed, because although it looks easy when looking at a World Map, in reality the mountains and rocks and especially disease carried by mosquitoes and poor drinking water made the project extremely difficult. Plus, the US had to create the country of Panama in order to get the rights to build the canal!  In 1977, President Carter signed a treaty with Panama returning the Canal Zone and the canal to Panama on December 31, 1999.  Although after World War II, giant warships and oil tanker ships were too big for the canal, bigger locks are currently under construction to accommodate larger ships.


Great Construction Projects in America